Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “The Dictator”


Well, since my less than glowing review of The Avengers (not that it was all that negative — I just said it was an okay superhero flick, not the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of the world, as some were claiming) didn’t get me tarred and feathered, I thought I would avail myself of the opportunity that this site provides me to take a look at some other films that I don’t get around to reviewing on my own site, http://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com, all that often because they just don’t fit in with the overall ethos (there’s my pretentious asshole bit out of the way) of what I try to stick to (for the most part, at any rate) over there.  Our erstwhile semi-empress, Ms. Bowman, assures me that pretty much anything goes around here, though, so without any further  ado I’m going to start up a little on-again/off-again series  where I take a look at the various summer blockbusters Hollywood is serving up this summer — something which I did, in fact, do on my own site last year, where it pretty much went over like a lead balloon, given that my readers don’t tend to stop by there looking for much by way of mainstream movie criticism. I trust folks around these parts won’t mind, though, since the mainstream isn’t something my fellow scribes here shy away from.

First up is the newly-released The Dictator, the third collaboration between supposed comic “talent” Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles. First off, let me state for the record that I have no particular objection to crass, vulgar, tasteless humor. In fact, I rather like it. But The Dictator feels less like it has an actual script than a belabored series of barely-strung-together, often overly-complicated, tremendously belabored set-ups for various gross-out gags that you can see coming from a mile (at least) away. Granted, Cohen was never going to get away with pure ad-libbing of the sort that he did in Borat again, and even the half ad-libbed/half-scripted shtick he pulled in Bruno was probably going to be a bridge too far as well, but  no way in a million years did I think his first truly non-spontaneous film was going to be this, well, clunky. It just doesn’t flow at all and it’s that blatant telegraphing of oncoming supposed “jokes,” rather than the nature of said jokes themselves, that makes this flick feel like such an insult to the audience’s collective intelligence.

Plus, there’s a none-too-subtle political agenda at work here that I find particularly underhanded and reprehensible. Let’s be honest — in between wasted cameos from the likes of Megan Fox and John C. Reilly, and criminally wasting the talents of Ben Kinglsey (who, sadly, has shown is recent years that he’ll do anything for a buck), The Dictator has one driving message from start to finish : Ahmadinejad (who Cohen’s Aladeen character is clearly based on) is a crazy loon, Iran (which the country of Wadiya that Aladeen rules over is clearly based on) is not to be trusted, the Iranians really are building nuclear weapons no matter what they say, they really want to wipe Israel off the map no matter what they say, and everyone, even cool Hollywood liberals, should get on board with the idea of bombing/and or invading them right now.

Seriously, I swear I’m not being paranoid or reading too much into things here. Before he gets lost in New York after being deposed (momentarily) by his uncle and falls in love with Anna Faris while working at her food co-op, Cohen’s Aladeen snickers as he denies his nuclear program is for peaceful, energy-producting purposes, and guffaws and snickers as he promises to leave Israel alone. Of course, the US news media assures us that Iranian “dictator” (he’s not really even the head political force in the country, but hey, whatever) Ahmadinejad does, indeed, intend to build nuclear weapons (even though more or less every international regulatory body and every truly independent defense analyst and Middle Eastern policy analyst disagrees) and he did threaten to wipe out Israel and denied the Holocaust ever happened (even though accurate translations of his comments show he’s never said anything of the sort and has been intentionally, and quite shamelessly, misquoted), so obviously Cohen’s just taking his material right from the headlines, right? Besides, didn’t I say earlier that Cohen and Charles were cool Hollywood liberals? Why, just look at that admittedly quite spot-on piece of satire  at the end of the film (which also marks more or less the only time at which Cohen and Charles hit the right notes) where Aladeen lampoons each and every facet of the so-called “war on terrorism” — he’s clearly not in favor of Bush-Cheney (or maybe that should be Bush-Cheney-Obama, since nothing in this regard has changed since the Texas oilmen left office) policies, so where do I get off thinking they’re trying to push us into another stupid war (and yes,”another stupid war” is what I object to — I’m not in any way saying that Ahmadinejad is a great guy or that  Iran isn’t a country in desperate need of wholesale reform from top to bottom — all I’m saying is that bombing and invading them is blatantly hare-brained idea)?

Oh, how short our memories are. Let’s not forget, friends, that we only went to war with Iraq after we had the so-called “opposition” on board, and that a good 75% of House and Senate Democrats voted for that ill-thought-out (to put it mildly!) scheme. Quite clearly Cohen and Charles know who their audience is, and their goal isn’t to push right-wing conservatives into supporting an attack on Iran — after all, they already do — but is rather to convince the so-called “left” (what remains of it, at any rate) that it’s a good idea, as well, since that’s the only quarter any opposition to this idea might possibly come from. And hey, let’s be honest — if Cohen and Charles really understood progressive politics at all, they wouldn’t have a picture of Barack Obama hanging on the wall of Faris’ food co-op. Ralph Nader, maybe, or Bernie Sanders, or Dennis Kucinich — but Obama? Don’t think so. These guys have clearly never spent so much as a minute in a real co-op.

Still, reprehensible as this film’s political chicanery is, it’s not the most offensive thing about The Dictator. Sorry, that still goes to its tremendously lead-footed pacing and insultingly obvious joke set-ups. Seriously, this is a movie that spends over five minutes leading up to a gag about losing a cell phone inside a woman’s vagina, and spends even longer than that cobbling together a lame punchline featuring Aladeen’s even dumber double milking a woman’s boobs into a pail. Comedy 101 — the set-up to a joke should never be more complicated than the joke itself, and when the jokes are this half-assed, they don’t require any more than the briefest of lead-in time. It’s that complete and utter non-spontaneity, ineptly handled and in service of puerile, juvenile shenanigans that hardly even deliver much of a payoff, that marks  a bigger crime, in a strictly cinematic sense, than trying to push us into another useless and counterproductive war with a wink and a nudge.

9 responses to “Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “The Dictator”

      • I’m glad that somebody can give good solid reasons as to why a certain type of “comedy” does not work. I’m even more satisfied by someone pointing out what I’ve been saying for the past few years: Obama is no better than any other recent US president. In fact, I shall happily go on record as saying that Obama is worse than George Dubbya Bush (please read the following explanation).

        Yes, Dubbya was a dangerous, ignorant, war-mongering bastard. But the fact is that everybody seemed to KNOW that he was such. It’s just that his staunchest supporters didn’t seem to MIND that he was a dangerous, ignorant, war-mongering bastard. In fact, some people positively adored these traits about Dubbya. But since people knew Dubbya for what he was, people organised against his policies. They spoke out against Uncle Sam’s escapades overseas. In a funny sort of way, Dubbya was a benefit to the US people, insofar as it made people shake off the dust of apathy, wake up and DO something for their country. It was probably the most pissed off that America and many other parts of the world had been since the early 1970s. And believe me, there’s always been plenty to be pissed off about in the last few decades.

        The problem with Obama is that he has this disingenuous “nice guy” image that almost EVERYBODY swallows whole. He’s doing all the same shit that Dubbya did overseas, but because he’s such a “swell guy”, he gets let off the hook.

        Another thing is that because Obama is the first Afro-American US president, therefore a pioneer in the White House, people seem reluctant to criticise him. He is, for many people, the ultimate proof that the US has finally achieved some sort of lasting ethnic equality, so naturally, they want him to do well. But shouldn’t people genuinely concerned about the welfare of their nation want ANY president to do well, regardless of whether the President is a pioneer or not?

        It seems like the same folks who love Obama were the same ones who wanted Dubbya to screw up royally. This makes no sense to me. Okay, so you were never going to get miracles from Dubbya, but if I were an American, I would’ve been hoping for as little mess as possible from Dubbya, for the good of my country, until he’d finally finished his run.

        The Obama brigade also seems to love the guy because he replaced George W. Bush as US President. So friggin’ what? Dubbya had finished his second term and had to step down anyway–there was never going to be a third term. Obama was in no way responsible for nudging Dubbya from office.

        I’m also digusted by Obama’s reluctance to leave the Middle East and Afghanistan to themselves. It doesn’t take SIX FRIGGIN’ YEARS to remove US troops from these parts of the world. Believe me, if Uncle Sam were getting his arse whomped in those places like he did back in Vietnam, he’d be out of the Middle East and Afghanistan in a New York minute. Did the Yankees hang around for six years “slowly and carefully withdrawing” after the Fall of Saigon?

        You better believe they didn’t.

        One of my favourite movies is the classic political satire “The Candidate”, and if you look at Bill McKay, the character played by Robert Redford, he’s Obama all over. Bright ideas and good intentions soon give way to typical political BS.

        Obama’s supporters ought to realise that “HOPE” is one thing. Actually delivering is something completely different.

        As for “The Dictator”, if SBC is to be considered the world’s leading political satirist, then the genre is doomed. I wouldn’t waste my time with one of his lame “comedy” vehicles, when the man is clearly a self-serving dope whose “humour” revolves around a string of flat caricatures based upon simple-minded ethnic stereotypes. Maybe this is why SBC so often appears “in caricature” before the cameras: the “real” SBC (if such a phoney can be called “real”) isn’t at all compelling.

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        • Wow, that was a tour-de-force! I’m not quite ready to say Obama is worse than Bush, but the NET EFFECT of having Obama as president is worse. Why? Because the left has gone to sleep and is willing to trust this corporate weasel. If Bush had tried to expand the “war on terrorism”-era executive powers to include KILLING AN AMERICAN CITIZEN witout trial, the left would have been up in arms. Obama did it and no one says a word.Hell, he just silently renewed the warrantless wiretapping powers that he initially ran against. So yes, while it’s perfectly nice that Obama did things like repealing “don;t ask, don;t tell,” the fact is that having this guy in office has just ensconced once-controversial executive powers to a degree where no no future presidnent will be expected to relinquish them. I don’t think Obama is a worse human being than Bush — who could be? — but his policies in key civil liberties areas have been more extreme, and he’s made what once looked like temporary Bush- era policies permanent. As somebody who genuinely believes in progressive ideals rather than a supporter of people who just pay them lip-service, there’s no way I’ll be voting for Obama again. I wouldn’t vote for Romey in a million years, of course, but fortunately there are other — better — choices on the ballot.

          Anyway, I appreciate your thoughtful comment, and yes. SBC had basically just beomce Will Ferrell for people who think they have brains.

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  1. I think you summed it up beautifully with the phrase “net effect”. Who knows if Obama is a better human being than Dubbya? All I know is that the so-called progressives, Leftists, whatever they call themselves, have gone to sleep. Obama is like the alien politician on the television set in “They Live”, standing in front of the sign that says OBEY, as he delivers an optimistic-sounding yet deceptive speech to the people.

    Obama appeals greatly to hip young things who think that Dubbya’s reign as US President was the political equivalent of a nuclear winter and the worst thing ever to strike the White House. Obviously, those people don’t know about the 12 years of Republican rule that encompassed eight years of Ronald Reagan and his hideous Star Wars programme, the Iran-Contra deal, followed by four years of Bush Senior and adventures in the Persian Gulf.

    But it doesn’t really matter, because at the end of the day, the US President, Democrat or Republican, is there to serve the interests of the corporate elite. It just amazes me how so many genuinely intelligent people are hoodwinked by Obama. Perhaps now they shall awaken to the reality of what Obama is really all about.

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    • Would that it were so, but I rather doubt it. As long as the corporate press concentrates all its energy on two corporate candidates who are eager to serve corporate interests so that they can earn a corporate payday once their term in office is done, then most folks, many of whom will be acting in perfectly good consicence, will resign themselves to shrugging and supporting whichever of the “big two” candidates they believe to be the lesser evil. Both will pursue essentially the same agenda, it’s just that Romney would be more aggressive about it, and both will only genuinely care about Wall Street and corporate interests while pretending to care about others — in Obama’s case, he’ll be pretending to care about pretty much everyone, in Romeny’s case he’ll be pretending to care about you only if you’re white, male, heterosexual, and Christian — but in the end, they’ve both got the same friends and are both having their strings pulled by the same puppeteers.

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  2. I’m getting into this conversation late and I usually tend to avoid politics but I do have to say that there is something exceedinly creepy about a President — any President — bragging about how he personally selects who should be the next target for assassination in a “war.” (It’s even creepier when that President — apparently aware that he’s struggling with Catholics who would otherwise vote for him out of tradition — claims that he’s doing it because of the reverance in which he holds St. Augustine.)

    If I wasn’t planning on voting against Obama before they started bragging about “kill lists,” I certainly am not going to do so now.

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    • Just don’t vote for Romney, if anything he’s an even bigger war-mongerand “kill list” supporter than Obama. He’d certainly push us into war with Iran even more quickly. People seem to think there are only two choices on the ballot, and until we get beyond that kind of “thinking,” nothing’s going to change. It’s not my place to tell anyone who to vote for, but I will say this much — Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party makes a lot of sense with his platrofm of kicking all corporate money out of politics, and, believe it or not, Roseanne Barr is running n the Green Party ticket and everything I’ve read fomr her so far also sounds eminently sensible and sane. Don’t just vote against someone because you don’t like them — “I can’t stand Obama so I’m voting for Romney,” or vice-versa — vote for somebody who shares the values you actually believe in. The Republicans and Democrats at this point offer two variations on the same theme, with the Republicans being even more overtly aggressive and militaristic and even more openly subservient to their corporate paymasters while the Democrats still cling to the image of giving a damn about average people, but they’ll both give you the same thing in the end, just to different degrees. But I’d still rather take the time to find someone worth voting for than just voting against “both” of them.

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